“Too many officials? History of a French obsession (XIXe-XXIe century) ”, by Emilien Ruiz, Fayard,“ The test of history ”, 272 p., € 22, digital € 16.

By recently proposing the elimination of tens of thousands of civil servant positions, does Valérie Pécresse know what she owes to Saint-Just? In 1793, he criticized the proliferation of “Twenty thousand fools” who corrupted the Republic and called for the reduction of the number of public officials everywhere. Of course, the candidate for the nomination of the Republicans and the member of the Committee of Public Safety are not on the same register and do not really speak of the same state. This one is much more imposing today than during the French Revolution, during which the criticism of the bureaucracy, a then recent neologism, was however already flourishing to question the power of the offices and the too great number of the employees. of State. The tough stability of this discourse throughout the duration of contemporary times has inspired historian Emilien Ruiz to write a lively little book, Too many officials?

State growth

It is not for the author to answer yes or no to this question too often asked in a simplistic way, but to shed light on the long-term issues and to flush out the unspoken. It is to enter, after Pierre Rosanvallon, Guy Thuillier or Jeanne Siwek-Pouydesseau, among others, in a history of the contemporary State in France and its agents. This essay dismantles a number of commonplaces in the discourse against “functionarism”, a very fashionable term at the end of the 19th century.e century, and puts into perspective the growth of this State of the XIXe in the XXIe century and the evolution of the number of civil servants.

Everything, in fact, must be specified. The very definition of the term “civil servant” has always been vague: depending on whether one chooses the most restrictive definition – the incumbent civil servants of the State – or the most extensive – all employees of the sectors of the civil service. public administration, education, health and social action in public and private law structures – this word includes 1.5 to 7.5 million individuals for the same year 2018.

Growth in the number of agents

Armed with many methodological precautions, Emilien Ruiz nonetheless faces the most common questions asked of our Leviathan. It reconstructs as much as possible the growth in the number of State agents and shows the accelerator role of the two world wars in this phenomenon, a very interesting point, unfortunately poorly served by graphics too small to be really readable. He especially recalls that this trend of increasing the number of staff reflects the extension of the services provided by the State in the social and educational fields. The heralds of the fight against its “obesity” often elude the fundamental question of the perimeter and the role of the State, whose ebb should be assumed before the public in order to make the dark cuts promised.

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